Why Does Earth Day Exist?

Illustration by Leslie Ibarra.

Conceived in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, April’s Earth Day serves as an annual reminder of the environmental issues the planet and all of its inhabitants face.

The United States in the 1960s was an era of incessant pollution, with smoke stacks puffing out toxic clouds of black smoke straight into the air. Cars and their emissions ran rampant. Chemical waste, dumped without repercussions or afterthought into rivers. A result of the post-World War II economic boom, no legal repercussions pertaining pollution, and being romanticized as the epitome of efficiency and prosperity, it caused the nation’s air quality and the planet’s health to decline.

Senator Nelson, with the likes of fellow American and marine biologist Rachel Carson, set out to inform the United States about the deadly allure of pollution. Carson, also an author, wrote “Silent Spring,” in which she tells about pesticides and the havoc they wreak on the environment.

In the spring of 1970, Nelson sought out to make an impact, declaring the first official Earth Day. “and, finally, forc[ing] this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” Drawing inspiration from the anti-war movement by college students and the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, he pitched to the national media a “national teach-in on the environment,” working in alliance with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and Denis Hayes, a Harvard student. The three coordinators and their national staff led the 20 million Americans that marched on the first Earth Day.

Hayes went on to create the Earth Day Network, expanding the now-holiday to more than 180 nations. This year, on its 49thanniversary which lands on April 22, the day is celebrated by more than 193 countries, at times accompanied by Earth Week and Earth Hour.

Promotional banner for the Annual Earth Day Sale, provided by Buffalo Exchange from their website.

Businesses in the valley are also taking action, with thrift stores such as Buffalo Exchange, a Tucson-based national phenomenon, incentivizing action. Their annual Earth Day $1 Day Sale where select items ranging from men’s clothing, women’s clothing, shoes and accessories are $1 apiece, is set to direct one hundred percent of the proceeds to The Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Rescue Team. The event is set to take place on Saturday, April 20, from store opening until supplies last, cash only.